Coronavirus: considerations for premises licence holders

By March 12, 2020NEWS

With the spread of COVID-19 escalating, there are potential issues that you may need to think about as a premises licence holder if the situation develops as predicted by senior medical advisers.

This could include large numbers of sufferers and disruption caused by either restriction on movement or other measures put in place to prevent its spread.

Read on for more on the particular issues potentially affecting premises holders and how to contingency plan for them.

General issues

The truth with a fast-moving situation such as this is that you will need to keep up to date with national and local announcements as to recommended best practice. Signing up for your local authority Twitter and blog updates will be the quickest way of finding out if the advice has changed and you need to take new or further action.

You will need to consider contingency planning for staffing where staff members at short-notice may need to self-isolate. Given there is a recommended 14 day self-isolation period for persons who come into contact with someone diagnosed with the virus, consideration should be given to how best shifts can be structured so that if a member of staff is affected, that does not require the whole staff to self-isolate for two weeks because they had recent contact with them.

Customers will expect additional measures and information to be provided at the premises, such as hand sanitizers and staff frequently washing hands if handling cash from other customers, for instance. Make sure you have a system in place for keeping staff up to date to prevent people from coming in if needed, such as a WhatsApp group. This might save the unnecessary risk of exposure, as well as explaining to staff, especially those on hourly contracts, what they can expect in terms of assistance should they not be able to work.

Finally, the rest of this article focusses on-premises licences and potential issues that may present themselves from operating during this period of uncertainty.

Delivery and collection conditions to on-sale premises

Many licences, particularly in urban areas, require deliveries of food and drink to the premises to be received only within certain times. Given that suppliers may well face the same pressures on staffing they could struggle with ensuring deliveries are made at the normal agreed times. If your suppliers are likely to have to deliver outside of the times you usually receive them, this could technically result in a breach of premises licence conditions. However, there must be a modicum of pragmatism taken by regulatory authorities at such times.

For the time being and unless there is the advice given from Government, we suggest that where you have an indication that your deliveries may be made outside of the hours stipulated on your licence,  you simply keep an email or text message trail so that you can evidence that this is outside of your control and due to your suppliers.

Festivals and outdoor large scale events

Licences for festivals and annual outdoor events often have stipulations on when such events can take place. As such, any postponement because of the Coronavirus could potentially be prevented by the licence not permitting the event to take place at a later date. If you have a time-restricted licence, early discussions with your local authority and police will be essential.

One solution, should your event need to be postponed to a future date that your licence may not cover, is to discuss the possibility of a variation to the licence or a new application specifically to deal with a postponement due to the virus. It may be that this is an area where advice from the Government or local authority will be issued in due course, but if this is a concern you have, early engagement will at least ensure that your event is on the radar of officers should action be needed down the road.

You may also need to look carefully at what provision the licence makes for minimum staffing requirements or door supervisor numbers. If you are going ahead with an event knowing that you will have significantly lower numbers of attendees, you may want to look at varying any such conditions to make contingency should number be lower to prevent unnecessary overheads.

Delivery direct to customers (off sales)

Conditions on off-licences and for restaurants that deliver to customers (whether through a delivery company or directly) often make reference to the checks that need to be undertaken to ensure that deliveries comply with under-age policies. One effect of the Virus is likely to be an increase in the number of deliveries made to homes where people are self-isolating but at the same time a lack of delivery drivers to make those deliveries. This may require consideration of the hours you are permitted to deliver and also how you can ensure that deliveries that include alcohol comply with your training requirements.

For restaurants that do not have off-sales for alcohol but are considering delivering directly to customers, food deliveries are usually not prohibited by a premises licence, although it is worth checking your conditions just in case and making a variation if needed to permit such deliveries. If you want to deliver alcohol with food, your licence will need to permit off-sales.

Premises licence conditions for managing on-licensed premises

Larger pubs and clubs need to carefully consider what conditions on your premises licence is likely to cause serious problems should there be issues with staffing, including the provision of door staff. Whilst some licences peg staffing and door staffing provision to expected capacity on any given day, others set arbitrary minimum numbers. This can include requirements for having personal licence holders on duty.

It is critical to understand what effect this will have on opening should there be a significant issue with finding the requisite staffing numbers. Again, early engagement with the authorities and a degree of pragmatism on the part of all parties should hopefully mean that agreed solutions for the duration of the emergency can be agreed. Again, national guidance may be released, but early consideration and engagement will allow for proper planning.

Visit the TLT Solicitor’s website for more information

– Written by Piers Warne, Legal Director, TLT Solicitors

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